Athena I won’t forget you

Before I dive into the trip details, I need to give some context for this particular trip.  It follows Siem Reap and Toronto, but unlike those two no one knows I’m on this one; not because I’m doing anything wrong, but I wanted a trip purely for myself.  My own little treat, all too often I get criticism of spending too much on travel, usually it’s because I’m with a family that isn’t up to travelling like hobos.  I on the other hand love to travel as a hobo.  I have no dark intentions on this trip, but I keep it a secret because I really wanted to absorb fully the history of Athens and Greece, which I always pushed back in lieu of other “more exotic” trips…I didn’t want judgement of going to a place that I could have taken my family easily to (unlike Siem Reap); but I wanted Athens and it’s history all to myself this time.  So I just wanted to make that clear, no ill intentions or anything bad done on this trip, just boring history stuff, which I wanted to take my time doing alone.

My Athenian haven

Now that the context is clear, I started off the day a bit sleepy, despite the fact that I left work early (half a day) and was able to resist going to a very important meeting at work (made another colleague go).   Had already packed my bag and changed inside my car before going straight to the airport from my office. Headed to the airport at night and after a few hours of sleep here I am in beautiful Athena.   I got up and went to the hotel terrace early in the morning to great views of the acropolis and a surprisingly delicious breakfast; the feta cheese and figs were amazing.  An added treat was the fact it was included – who knew?

The Acropolis, jewel of Athens

So then I went out and walked through the boulevard to the Acropolis entrance where I bought the full ticket (not confident I would maximise the cost but better safe than sorry) got a very charming Greek lady talk me into a tour.  She needed minimum six to make up for the cover charge so I waited a good hour before going in, which defeated the notion of beating the crowds early, the weather was still amazing though which made it acceptable, and apparently was so for the two days I was here (good timing).  I was with an Aussi couple, an Indian who was a smart ass (but added some interesting conversation) – some things he blurted were awkward, and a family from North Carolina.  The tour was surprisingly informative despite the steep price, not sure if it was worth it.

Regardless, I learned some really cool tidbits and witnessed some nice sketchy and offensive comments from the guide (Maria), couldn’t help but laugh them off.  After the acropolis, made my way to Hadrian’s Gate and Zeus Temple (Olympion) and then up the city garden which was very relaxing.  Then through the Grand Boulevard which was full of shops, and nicely pedestrianised.  At the square leading to it, of all things, I see an old acquaintance and his Spaniard friend – of all places! Of course I ignored eye contact and didn’t want to strike a conversation….plus they were busy taking pictures of the “local populace of interest”.

After that strange coincidence made my way to the Agoras (ancient and Roman), Hadrian’s library, Mars Hill, and then went up to the fish and meat market further north before walking down to the Acropolis Museum.  In between had a nice lamb souvlaki and mythos beer near Hadrian’s Gate, and then a cappuccino and a baklava (which was way too much for me, had maybe a quarter of it and couldn’t finish it).  At the Museum, which was really cool, especially the two videos in the third floor explaining some good ol’ history on the Acropolis, I had my “Linner” (late lunch early dinner) – yes I want to make it a thing.  With views on the acropolis, having my nice roast chicken, an amazing saffron rice with dill and raisins, complimented by a grapefruit pink soda, and then ended with Greek coffee and an orange vanilla cake which was slightly dry but tasty.

Despite the fact that I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, and tried hard not to buy anything (to avoid clues) I couldn’t resist and got a lot of things! Like A LOT!  Got turquoise opal earrings each for my Mom, wife and niece, not sure how I’ll be justifying them.  Then got “the eye” magnet, famous here to ward off evil – very useful, especially around the fridge.  Towards the end got a wood watch which was very unique, a small wood dominoes and chess sets to play with my little guy.

After spending a good hour or two in the museum as I was looking at one of the displays on my way out, a tame Canadian lady quietly told me that my shorts are completely ripped open in the back.  Yes – very random.  How the hell could that happen to begin with?  I mean scientifically and logistically?  And for how long was I walking around with my underwear (bright blue I might add) showing through my white shorts – IN A MUSEUM!  I was embarrassed to say the least, and surprised – and very much amused.  What a strange thing to happen.  Just in time though as I headed back to the hotel to relax after a good 11 hours being outside straight.

Tomorrow will do an early one and head to both the Archaeological and Byzantine Museums which are both at opposite ends but walkable (I got a sense of the city’s scale today and so should be OK).   Realised that tomorrow is in fact not a full day and need to get a cab to take me to the airport at around 8:00p.m., but should be enough time to see what I need to see.  Will need to make sure I have enough Euros.  So far though loved the city, people are genuinely friendly (every place I go to this is a given), and well tempered (i.e. relaxed).  The food is reasonable in terms of price, portions are small but filling, and everything is crazy delicious, more so than I expected.  Loving the city, didn’t expect I would to be honest – well worth the trip – well worth the lie if I’m being honest (yes I get the irony here).  By the way couldn’t have asked for a better hotel, perfect location, very clean and comfy room; and of course the great breakfast, but the location though…WOW! (Day 1 – AD Apartments, Athens, 9:00pm)**

So what was intended as a light day with only two Museums on the agenda, ended up being full on Museum hopping; I literally took in almost every museum in this city, and certainly got my museum pass money’s worth going to all of them covered on the list.  Started off with a nice breakfast headed to the 1894 Olympics Stadium/track, then off to Aristotle’s Academy (neither of which were on the original list), then finally to the Byzantine museum, and next to it was the War Museum.  The War museum was a very nice surprise actually, especially the contemporary history and war of independence. Then off I went to the Cyclad Museum (again not on the list) the display of daily life was awesome.  The private Benaki Museum was next, up to the Archaeological Museum (that and the Byzantine Museum were the original two) a place you can really get lost in. Stopped for a nice beef kebab sandwich to fuel up on this crazy day.

Realising that my phone battery is about to die (and I got very dependent on the offline Google Map directions) I headed through the central (downtrodden area) of Athens.  It was visibly full of immigrants, especially through Sofokleous Road, and along the main commercial area on Panepistimiou Road.  Down to Keramikos Cemetry  (phone battery still surprisingly working) was very interesting and then to the walking pedestrianised road – I realised I had just missed the Benaki Islamic Museum which is apparently one of the best, my only regret.  Then again my phone battery was hanging by a thread so didn’t have much choice – I would have been completely lost with no map or guidebook.  Did stop for a beef Gyro tough (in a restaurant run by Indians).  Got some postcards, ended with a Ben and Jerry Cookie Dough Ice Cream scoop on a cone and back to the hotel.

History hopping!

So instead of two sites today, I ended up going to 8!  Glad I did each of them, they were all different.  Loved Athens, way more than I thought I would, and the people seem very warm.  Loved the culture and food (both of which I always knew I would) and the amazing people.  It’s sad I have to keep this trip on the down low and hidden, but I don’t regret a thing about it.  It was a good decision to do this short break for me, and I won’t forget it anytime soon.  It will be very hard not to boast about it, especially with all the souvenirs I got (more than Siem Reap!)  I really think this City and the Mediterranean culture is my element and where I intuitively and naturally belong.   (Day 2 – AD Apartments, Athens, 8:24pm)***

Do you think Athens is relying on its past – or is there a new youthful vibrancy in it that gets overlooked?

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